The Study and after

September 1 2008

The entire table of contents of A Study of History, 9,000+ words, is now here. This is the first time it has been seen in one place.

It had been scattered across five volumes: I, IV, VII, XI and XII. It was also very hard to follow, and probably still is. Volumes I-III appeared in 1934, IV-VI in 1939, VII-X in 1954. Volume XI, a Historical Atlas and Gazetteer, followed in 1959, and Volume XII, called Reconsiderations, answering critics, in 1961. I, IV and VII show the detailed contents for the whole of their respective tranches. The other volumes only show the detailed contents for that volume.

There is no unified index either. If you want to find all the references to a subject, you have to go to four separate indeces, in III, VI, X and XII.

The “Plan of the Book” was shown at the beginning of Volumes I, IV and VII, but the Parts of this Plan don’t correspond to the Volumes. 

The only bibliography is in Reconsiderations.

Here’s the “Plan”:


Pieter Geyl, Toynbee’s unrelenting critic, was one of those who noted that he was able to refer in detail to sections far ahead in his project when it was at its outset.

“What a plan! What especially fills one with awe is to see the author from his first volume onward referring to later parts which are to appear after an unknown number of years and of volumes. As he proceeds, there are cross-references backwards and forwards. In his mind evidently the immense structure forms a unity.” (Toynbee’s System of Civilizations.)

In Volumes VII-X, Toynbee modified his way of referring backwards and forwards in footnotes, but the Plan was unchanged. Geyl also says, writing after the publication of the second tranche: “the remaining eight [Parts] will, he expects, demand less space”. This turned out not to be true. Volumes VII, VIII and IX are the longest.

When he ended Volume X with thirty pages of Acknowledgements and Thanks, did he foresee the final two? Yes. He probably had not before Volumes VII-X appeared, but in the second of two Prefaces (1951 and 1954) to the first edition of those volumes, he refers forward to the Historical Atlas and Gazetteer and the retractiones, or Reconsiderations. If he was going to do retractiones, it might have seemed unsatisfactory to end with a Volume XI, so the Atlas may have been an afterthought.

Even if you have five volumes open in front of you, the contents, running to 9,000 words, beyond the Plan, are difficult to grasp. Try scrolling down that list. Scroll slowly. It’s easy to scroll fast and not notice what’s there. Did any book beg more for an abridgement? The list is an impertinence. Was Toynbee merely a fraud or mad? Why did he depart from the standards of the unadulterated classical education he had received at Winchester and Oxford? He agreed that he could be difficult to read.

Even, however, when a necromancer avoids or escapes the nemesis of being enslaved by a ghost that he has reanimated at his own expense by nurturing it with a transfusion of his own life-blood, the sterility to which even the least noxious achievements of the Black Arts are condemned ex officio originis is exposed remorselessly when these are compared with the contemporary achievements of a necromantic society’s native genius.

That isn’t only because he was trained in Latin. There are many times when he seems trapped within his own categories and far from reality. When it was said that his work was not “calm” (I don’t have that reference here now), he could reply that he did not live in a calm time. But behind his work is the calm of Victorian classical learning.

If we look at this table of contents we can, of course, see that, though Toynbee emancipated himself from Eurocentrism more than any other world-historian had done, he remained centred in his classical world. The perception that he applied the lessons of Greco-Roman history to other places was at the root of many people’s objections to the Study. His knowledge of civilisations east of Islam was comparatively thin.

What did he do after finishing the Study in 1961, with thirteen years of writing left? At one level, he had spent himself in this effort, exhausted himself for further creative work, rather as Bertrand Russell is said to have done, at an earlier stage in his career, with his Principia Mathematica. The Study didn’t stir a tornado of new ideas that appeared afterwards. Practically every anecdote and historical example that appears in later general works can be traced to something that was said in the Study.

What he did was to refresh himself in travel, one of his main intellectual pleasures being the visiting of places he had known only from books. His tenure at Chatham House had ended in 1956. There were four travel books after Volume X of the Study (one before it). The best is Between Oxus and Jumna. There were lectures: not always his best medium; several volumes of published conversations, in which he reacts in a relaxed and often fresh and interesting way to his own time and restates his ideas; two autobiographical volumes; and some coffee-table books, one of which was a new abridgement of the Study. There was also much repetitive journalism.

And there were several academic studies, in which, sometimes ponderously, he reestablished his credentials as a mere historian: Hannibal’s Legacy (two volumes, 1965) and Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World (1973) would have been anybody else’s life’s work. The latter, nearly 800 pages long, was acknowledged as offering new insights, even though his coronary in 1969 slowed it down: it is weak on the Church. Some Problems of Greek History (1969), over 500 pages, was a series of essays. The Greeks and Their Heritages (1981, posthumous) retraversed much old ground and in unprecedented detail. Hellenism, The History of a Civilization (1959) had been shorter and less wide-ranging.

Mankind and Mother Earth (1976, also posthumous) was a long narrative history of the world. It might have benefitted from some editing, but it does break some new ground. It covers Southeast Asia, which had been neglected completely in the Study. Some or all of its fifteen maps are taken from the Historical Atlas and Gazetteer or based on its maps.

And during all of this time after 1961, though it was only thirteen years, he continues his calm correspondence with Columba Cary-Elwes, monk of Ampleforth.

Not so very bad for a postlude. Between 1934 and 1961, there is little other than the Study and the continuing work on the Survey of International Affairs. But that period does contain, after he has finished the main part of the Study of History, his most important set of lectures, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1954).

I’ll cover the shape of his œuvre before 1934 in a separate post. It is mainly a spin-off from his propaganda work during the First World War. That work itself has interest, and it begins to lead him towards the Study.

MF Ashley Montagu, editor of a collection of essays on Toynbee published in 1956:

“There is scarcely an aspect of the life of man in the modern or in the ancient world which Toynbee’s monumental work does not touch upon. Toynbee’s erudition, acknowledged by all, is so vast and convoluted that among those who read him

… the wonder grows
That one small head can carry all he knows.”

The quotation is from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem The Deserted Village and should read:

“And still they gaz’d, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

Montagu goes on:

“For most of Toynbee’s readers that wonder assumes the form of admiration and something verging upon awe. Toynbee’s achievement is of staggering proportions. Ten volumes (with two more promised), 6,290 pages [over 7,000 by the end], 3,150,000 words, 332 pages of index with 19,000 entries, the magisterial third-person style, the prodromic periods, the Greek elegiacs, the Latinisms, the neologisms, the sonorities of sensuous and esoteric names, the sinuosities of the author’s thought, the prodigious show of learning, and not least the experience and authority of the creator of A Study of History, combine to produce an overwhelming effect. The general reader concludes the book with the feeling that he has read something great and wonderful.”

“However, if he is critically minded, he wonders how sound it all is.” Then he lets the hatchet men in.

Roger Sale, New York Review of Books, January 28 1971: “Those elephants! Those October journeys to Lashkari Bazar!”

How to read this 9,000-word table of contents? The “Plan” isn’t always in front of one. In the original editions, Volume I shows the contents for Volumes I-III, Volume IV the contents for IV-VI, and Volume VII the contents for VII-X. Even with the Plan, the detail is intractable, more a “burden on the memory” as you read than an “illumination of the soul” (Acton). It is very far from clear at a glance why certain “Annexes” appear where they do. And they are always placed at the end of a volume. Who has the time to work out what Annexes to C III (c) 2 (β) means?

In setting the contents out here, I follow OUP’s basic conventions, which are not absolutely consistent. From Volume VII onwards, they are changed slightly, no doubt to make it all easier to follow. There are very few misprints: I can think of only one, and I have corrected it. But I’ve done what I need to to make this list comprehensible on-screen. Ignoring bold, italics, etc, the basic conventions are


I won’t bother to explain this further. It’s counterintuitive at times to find 1 as a subset of a, not the other way round, but there it is. Why are some levels sometimes skipped? My synthesis of these tables is a world first. It was not easy to do. I don’t think there are mistakes. I’ll correct them if I see them. One of my innovations is to place the Annexes next to the sections to which they are annexed.

There it is. The list is like a series of iron gates, through which we peer, if we have some sense of the full Study, into a garden. We discern patches of sunlight, marbled watercourses, the corners of buildings.

Gustav Mahler said that a symphony should contain the universe. He described the finale of his Symphony of a Thousand to Willem Mengelberg as “the whole universe beginning to ring and resound. These are no longer human voices, but planets and suns revolving.” Toynbee strove to understand the rhythm of the universe itself when he studied history. He strained towards metahistory. These tables use the words crescendo, diminuendo, rhythm. See posts here called Religio historici.

I hope that anyone who reads this blog regularly will see an unportentous side of Toynbee. See my early post called Toynbee.

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

5 Responses to “The Study and after”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Toynbee was twenty-one years old when that Symphony of a Thousand was premiered. His work shares a certain pre-1914 gigantism with it.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    A Journey to China (1931) is not the first travel book if you include The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (1922), which is based on his travels in Greece and Turkey in 1921 as a reporter for the Manchester Guardian.

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